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Pair on Findlay council pan leader's prayer plan

FINDLAY - City Council President Robert Schuck's suggestion to open meetings with a prayer is not being welcomed with open arms by some of his colleagues.

“I prefer to have my own silent meditation, give my own pleadings. I don't need someone to beg for me,” said Councilwoman Marcia Barkey. “To me, this moment is your own minute or two. It's important to me.''

In his proposal, Mr. Schuck said he would like to invite a different clergy person representing all religious sects in Findlay to each of the twice-monthly sessions to give a brief invocation.

He said his proposal is a good one and one he believes this conservative northwest Ohio community will support.

“The bottom line is, I just think it's a good thing to ask God's blessing on the community. I don't think it would hurt anything. It can only help,'' Mr. Schuck said yesterday. “Congress does it. The state does it. I don't know why we shouldn't. “

The council president has put the question to the community. In yesterday's local newspaper, a letter from Mr. Schuck was published asking for community input on the prayer proposition.

Since the letter appeared, the community has had little chance to respond, Mr. Schuck said. As of yesterday afternoon, one person had called in favor of prayer.

But council has had more time to think over the president's suggestion.

Mr. Schuck said he approached several council members with the idea. Councilman Robert Nichols said most council members don't have a problem making the change. “None of us objected to that,'' Mr. Nichols said, adding the burden would fall on local ministers who would have to squeeze in the bimonthly sessions.

Mrs. Barkey said the imposition on religious leaders is ridiculous.

“To me, it's outrageous - we meet twice a month - to ask someone to come in for two minutes,” Mrs. Barkey said. “If he's going to have a rabbi or someone from the mosque - that's a long way to drive.''

Mrs. Barkey and Councilman John Sausser said they are strong supporters of a moment of silence, when people can pray, meditate, or just simply sit in silence. “We salute the flag and have a moment of silence, and I think that's plenty adequate,'' Mr. Sausser said.

Years ago, Findlay council opened its sessions with an invocation, Mr. Sausser, a longtime local politician recalled. In the 1960s, when the question of separating church and state was raised, the rules were changed to a moment of silence in lieu of prayer, Mr. Sausser said.

Opening some government meetings with prayer is a tradition upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, said Jillian Davis of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. Congress does it, as do local councils, including Monroe and Fostoria, and several county commissioners.

Mr. Schuck said starting council meetings with a prayer would mirror the community's values. “I think this is representative of the majority of the community,'' he said.

In the letter, Mr. Schuck said: “While an invocation is largely symbolic, it sends the important message that we as a community still value the spiritual over the material. ... I believe the greatness of our community can best be measured in the spirit of its people, and faith is a component of that spirit.''

The council president said Mr. Sausser and Mrs. Barkey are the only council members who don't favor changing from silence to prayer. But they question whether Mr. Schuck has the authority to institute prayer. “He has very little right to impose his will on the council,'' Mr. Sausser said. “As a matter of fact, president of council is not a member of the legislative body as such. He's a member of the administration by law. I'm not going to fight it if the rest of council wants it. It's just not worth fighting. If [Mr. Schuck] really thinks it's a good idea, he should get some council member to impose it, but not me.''

Mr. Schuck said he's the one who leads the meetings and believes that gives him right to implement change. He said he will do so when he's certain the community supports the prayer proposal.

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